Monday, May 28, 2012

A Conglomeration of Memorial Day Thoughts

Happy Memorial Day!

I truly am thankful for the many people who have sacrificed so much - everything, in some cases - in the service of our country. Especially those I have personally interacted with: my brother-in-law stationed in Alaska, two cousins stationed in Afghanistan, both grandfathers who fought in the army during the Vietnam era, two uncles and several great-uncles, friends from high school, the old men in church who would wear their veteran hats and pins, and the once-homeless Vietnam veteran who lives with my former piano teacher as he goes through surgery after surgery, still fighting the effects of the war on his body. I have always been fascinated by war veterans, wondering what they truly went through - but not really wanting to know, at the same time. I also feel much gratitude to the wives of these honorable men, including my beautiful sister Jenessa. I've seen what they go through, but I cannot imagine what it would actually feel like.

My sister and her new(ish) husband :)
On Friday night I watched "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" with some friends. I totally bawled for a good majority of the time haha. It really made me think though, seeing the intense confusion of the boy who's father died in the World Trade Centers and who desperately tried to understand why someone would kill his dad, a complete stranger. It made me think about how war today isn't like how it used to be, or like how I once imagined it was. It's not always about right versus wrong. Or like when I was a little girl and would line up all the little toys to fight an epic battle, where the dinosaurs and monsters were the bad guys and the Little Bo Peeps and Hello Kittys were the good guys. Sometimes it's not that clear cut. Sometimes we're not even sure what we're fighting for anymore. But that makes me almost more grateful for the soldiers who still fight, who still pledge to defend the Constitution as their number-one priority, even if they're not sure exactly what that means. And sometimes, it's not just those in uniform who are the heroes - it's the firefighters who entered the crashing buildings knowing they'd probably never come out again, just to save a few individuals. It's the civilians, people like you and me, who rushed to others' safety without thinking of their own. On that day and in the months following, America was united. We may have looked weak to those who were laughing and celebrating at what they had done; but in my almost-20 years of life, we have never been stronger.

To be honest, I wasn't always so sure about America. In elementary school, I grew up feeling quite patriotic and proud of my country. However, over time the cynics really began to affect me, and I wondered if the United States wasn't as great as I had thought it was. It started to be "uncool" to be patriotic, and in a way, I could see why. I remember one day my sophomore year of high school as my principal - one of the most patriotic men I know - was speaking of America and the great nation that it is. I don't remember what he said exactly, but I remember that at one point, I made a sarcastic remark about America to the people next to me to try to get a laugh out of them. Well, it worked - but I felt horrible. By the time my principal was done talking, my teacher was furious. With great conviction, she told us about those who have died, and those in her family, in the service of this country. She reprimanded us for the disrespect we had shown, and we certainly felt it. I had much admiration and respect for my teacher, and I was so ashamed. I went to her later that day and choked out a measly apology for my disrespect. 

Still, I felt confused. In elementary school, our teachers taught us what a great country the United States is. By the time I was in high school, I felt like we were constantly told how many bad things the US had done and how it's not such an awesome country. It wasn't just the historical stuff like slavery or the near-complete annihilation of the Native Americans either - it seemed that America just couldn't seem to do anything right. How could I reconcile these conflicting statements? How could I love a country that had done so much wrong? Were the good things that the US actually did do just means to achieve selfish motives? And why does everyone in the whole world seem to hate us? 

I've thought a lot about these confusions I've had. Just in the past year, I've learned a lot about the United States in relation to other countries, and heaven knows we are not perfect. However, I realized today that maybe I can love the US in a way similar to how I love other people, or even how I love myself. I don't expect others to be perfect, but I love them anyways. I know that I am not perfect, but I can still love myself as I try to overcome my imperfections. And just because I love myself doesn't mean I hate everyone else. Maybe being patriotic isn't so different. I can love my country enough to want to help it become better. Loving my country doesn't mean I hate others - in fact, having a love for the United States helps me to see the good in other countries as well, and see what other countries do right that we can apply to our own country. I have hope in my country, just like I have hope in humanity. And, I can be proud to call it my country. I can listen to my country music, break out a good ole American-style BBQ, watch a fireworks display, and wear my red white and blue with pride.

So today, I say thank you to everyone who has sacrificed in the service of America. Because of you, I can enjoy the freedom I take for granted every day. God bless America!

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